Category: exhibitions

Isotype at the Science Museum

Loans from the Isotype Collection on display in the Mathematics gallery. From left: chart from the British Council Study Box on the National Health Service (‘Estimated cost and personnel, 1949–50’); Women and a new society (1946), opened to the chart ‘…’; original exhibition chart, ‘Infant death rate and income’ (1933).
Loans from the Isotype Collection on display in the new Mathematics gallery at the Science Museum, London. From left: chart from the British Council Study Box on the National Health Service (‘Estimated cost and personnel, 1949–50’); Women and a new society (1946), opened to chart 9, ‘Literacy in England and Wales’; original exhibition chart, ‘Infant death rate and income’ (1933).

The Department has made a long-term loan of Isotype work to the Science Museum, London. The loans are featured in the museum’s new Mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, which opened to the public today (8 December). Following a visit to the Isotype Collection, Science Museum curator David Rooney chose examples of Isotype that convey simply and directly the underlying application of mathematics to the production of pictorial statistics. Captions written for the items note Marie Neurath’s early training as a mathematician.

Material histories: Centennial Exhibition stencil

In the last in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition ‘Material histories’ (now on in the Department), Eric Kindel tells the story of a stencil cut to commemorate the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

 

Centennial Exhibition stencil (at right), alongside (from left) Lettering art in modern use (1952) by Raymond A. Ballinger; portrait of Silas H. Quint (no date); and back cover of the catalogue Quint’s stencil, stamp, and letter works (c. 1887–1895) showing a representation of the 
Centennial Exhibition medal.

 

Centennial Exhibition stencil

This stencil (shown above, at right) was made in 1876, or shortly after, by S. H. Quint & Sons of Philadelphia, a company started in 1849 specialising in stencil cutting and the manufacture of pattern letters, steel stamps, seal presses, burning irons, and so on. In 1876, the company displayed samples of its work at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and was awarded a ‘first premium’ and a medal. Apparently to commemorate the award, two elaborate stencils were cut, based on the two sides of the medal. The stencil displayed here, translating the obverse of the medal, depicts the ‘Genius of America’ holding a crown of laurels above the emblems of industry lying at her feet. The four roundels at the cardinal points typify America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, accompanied 
by appropriate symbols.

In 2005, this stencil was offered for auction on eBay, illustrated by several indifferent photographs. Not knowing its identity, provenance, or significance, I put in an early bid of $70, hoping for the best since I was not able to follow the auction to its end. In the event, I won the auction, but only just: a rival bidder had bid up to $69 and then quit. I became increasingly grateful for this fortunate outcome as I later assembled the stencil’s story from Centennial Exhibition records, a Quint catalogue, Frank Leslie’s historical register of the United States Centennial Exposition, 1876, and ­correspondence with Gladys Quint Wigfield, the great grand-daughter of the company’s founder, Silas H. Quint (1821–1897).

In 1952, the Philadelphia-based designer Raymond A. Ballinger published Lettering art in modern use. The book features the partner stencil to the one displayed here; it translates the reverse of the Centennial Exhibition medal. Ballinger encountered the stencil at the Quint company and clearly felt it would make a striking addition to his book. The partner stencil and the medal are still in the possession of the Quint company, which continues in business in Philadelphia, now specialising in the manufacture of photopolymer flexographic printing plates for pharmaceutical packaging.

 

On display

Stencil plate, S. H. Quint & Sons, Philadelpia, 1876 (or shortly 
after), brass
Quint’s stencil, stamp, and letter works, catalogue, Philadelphia, 
c. 1887–1895, back cover showing a representation of the 
Centennial Exhibition medal
Portrait of Silas H. Quint, no date
Lettering art in modern use, Raymond A. Ballinger, New York: 
Reinhold, 1952

 

‘Material histories’ presents graphic communication artefacts with a story to tell. The stories – the material histories – describe the artefacts in particular: what they are about, where they came from, their material qualities, their circumstances of production, how they were acquired, and crucially how they link to other artefacts, narratives and representations.

The exhibition continues until 11 November.

 

Material histories: Tschichold & ampersands

In the third in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition ‘Material histories’ (now on in the Department), Rob Banham tells the story of Jan Tschichold’s history of the ampersand.

 

Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (Forms of the ampersand) (1953) by Jan Tschichold (at upper right); letter from Sarasin to Tschichold (centre); reprint of Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (2004).
Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (Forms of the ampersand) (1953) by Jan Tschichold (at upper right); letter from Georges Sarasin to Tschichold (centre); reprint of Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (2004).

 

Jan Tschichold and the ampersand

This 28-page booklet (above, displayed open at upper right) is about the history of the ampersand. Published in 1953, it contains a short text by Jan Tschichold and 288 examples of different forms of the ampersand character. The examples range in date from 346 BC to the end of the nineteenth century. This particular copy, purchased on eBay in about 2004, came with a folded letter inside, dated 20 November 1954, written by Georges Sarasin to Tschichold. When I bought the booklet, the eBay listing mentioned the letter but not that the booklet had been inscribed to Sarasin by Tschichold. Nor did it say that on page 16 several errors in the caption numbering had been carefully corrected in pencil, presumably by Tschichold himself.

In the letter, Sarasin thanks Tschichold for sending him the booklet, and remarks on the amount of material collected and the effort this must have involved. He goes on to say, ‘It seems to me that such a publication is of particular importance, apart from the aesthetic pleasure, because it makes it quite obvious what we would lose if we banished capital letters when such a disposable character [i.e. the ampersand] has inspired such artistic achievements.’ Sarasin’s reference is to a debate that had begun in the 1920s when modernist typographers first proposed abolishing capital (or uppercase) letters in favour of only lowercase. This was something Tschichold had supported at the time: in 1930 he put forward ideas for a new script based on existing lowercase forms, and for a new orthography. But he later rejected the proposal to abolish capitals as unworkable.

Also on display are two earlier articles on the ampersand by Frederick W. Goudy and Paul Standard. Tschichold acknowledges both as the source of many of his examples: numerous entries in his list are followed by a ‘G’ for Goudy or an ‘S’ for Standard; those with a ‘T’ are items he sourced himself. Goudy’s article also appears to have provided a model for Tschichold, who reproduced his ampersands at the same size.

While Tschichold’s booklet is an example of his longstanding interest in the history of letterforms, it also demonstrates his mastery of understated typography, and the nuanced use of paper and binding in book design. The Japanese reprint, issued in 2004, is a pale imitation.

 

On display

Jan Tschichold, Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (Forms of the ampersand), Frankfurt: Stempel, 1953
Copy of a letter sent by Georges S. Sarasin to Jan Tschichold, dated 20 November 1954
Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen, reprint with Japanese text, issued to accompany a Tschichold special issue of Idea magazine, 2004
Frederick William Goudy, ‘Ands & ampersands’, Typography, no. 3, 1937, pp. 11–18
Paul Standard, ‘The ampersand – sign of continuity’, Signature, no. 8, 1938, pp. 44–51

 

‘Material histories’ presents graphic communication artefacts with a story to tell. The stories – the material histories – describe the artefacts in particular: what they are about, where they came from, their material qualities, their circumstances of production, how they were acquired, and crucially how they link to other artefacts, narratives and representations.

The exhibition continues until 11 November.

 

Material histories: crossed letters

In the second in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition ‘Material histories’ (now on in the Department), Sue Walker tells the story of ‘crossed letters’.

 

Crossed letters, c. 1880s–1910s, from the collection of Sue Walker.
Crossed letters, 1880s–1910s, from the collection of Sue Walker.

 

Crossed letters

‘Crossing’ a letter was a widely-adopted letter-writing practice. The aim was to save paper and postal charges when – before the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 – the cost of sending a letter was determined by the number of pages it contained and the distance it was sent. After 1840, letters with more than one sheet of paper could be sent cheaply throughout Britain. By the end of the nineteenth century letter-writing manuals and etiquette books cautioned against crossing, as the following quotations confirm:

‘Another practice of the past, now happily discontinued, was that of crossing letters; and two sheets of paper are used if one sheet will not contain all that is to be said. If half the second sheet of paper is left blank it is not torn off, a whole sheet being more convenient to hold and to fold than is half a sheet of paper, and if the last few words are necessary for the completion of a letter they are written on the margin and not across the writing on the face of the pages.’ 
(The correct guide to letter writing, by a member of the aristocracy, 1892)

‘Another almost entirely feminine fault is that of ‘crossing’ a letter. As one of the first requisites of a letter is that it should be distinctly written there cannot possibly be any valid excuse for “crossing”.’ 
(E. M. Busbridge, Letter writing and etiquette, 1909)

Some examples of crossing suggest that people did so to avoid starting a second sheet of paper, as they contain just a few lines written at 90 degrees to the rest. Crossing is also found in letters of a personal or intimate nature, as indicated by salutations such as ‘My own true Ernest’, ‘My dearest Ernest’ and ‘My very dear Ernest’ (see row of three letters, at lower right). Both sides of a sheet fully crossed suggest that in certain instances crossing was a deliberate ploy to disguise the messages within. Some crossed letters, especially those with generous space between the lines, are relatively easy to read. Others are more challenging, though one can imagine the unfolding delight of the recipient as they slowly deciphered a densely crossed text.

The crossed letters shown here are from a collection of family letters given to me by Vivian Wright, a librarian and friend of the Department. The collection is remarkable in its breadth, containing letters sent and received by children in the late nineteenth century, love letters, letters sent and received during the First World War, and day-to-day correspondence from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s.

 

On display

Crossed letters, 1880s–1910s
Etiquette books: The correct guide to letter writing, by a member of the aristocracy (published in many editions, usually undated; on display are editions from 1892 and the early 20th century); E. M. Busbridge, Letter writing and etiquette, 1909

 

‘Material histories’ presents graphic communication artefacts with a story to tell. The stories – the material histories – describe the artefacts in particular: what they are about, where they came from, their material qualities, their circumstances of production, how they were acquired, and crucially how they link to other artefacts, narratives and representations.

The exhibition continues until 11 November.

 

Material histories: Emil Hübner

‘Material histories’ is a small exhibition now on display in the Department. It presents graphic communication artefacts with a story to tell. The stories – the material histories – describe the artefacts in particular: what they are about, where they came from, their material qualities, their circumstances of production, how they were acquired, and crucially how they link to other artefacts, narratives and representations.

In the first in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition, James Mosley tells the story of Emil Hübner’s Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae.

 

Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae

Emil Hübner’s collection of Latin inscriptions, Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae, is a big book. It is not easy for the ordinary reader to approach. All the text – and there is a lot of it – is in Latin. But every inscription that is listed is shown in a line illustration. Many of the original inscriptions are routine jobs, while others delightfully capture calligraphic qualities. The inscriptions, as presented in the book, are well drawn, often (according to the captions) from photographs of the originals. They are printed from ‘zincographs’, which are relief etchings made directly from the drawings. Zincography was a relatively new process at the time, whose early history needs recording.

Emil Hübner, Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae, entry 265 showing a sample of letters from the inscription at the base of Trajan's column, Rome.
Emil Hübner, Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae, opened to item 265, a sample of letters from the inscription at the base of Trajan’s column, Rome.

Edward Johnston was rightly impressed with what he called these ‘fine outline drawings’, and he included samples of them in his little handbook, Writing & illuminating, & lettering (1906). In her book, Lettering on buildings (1960), Nicolete Gray complained that the scale of the originals was difficult to judge, which is true. But over a thousand inscriptions are shown and the size of each line is given.

So Hübner’s book is on many people’s list of things to look at. In 1979, I received a prospectus from a publisher in Berlin offering a reprint, which I ordered for the St Bride Library. What I got was a surprise: a copy of the original book, printed in 1885, and not bound, but sewn and ready to use. I imagine that before the reprint was put in hand someone must have come across copies of the original book that had somehow survived in a warehouse, perhaps in Berlin, for nearly a century. I tipped off the ‘Typography Department’ at Reading, which ordered its own copy of the 1885 printing. This is the copy displayed here.

At Reading, Hübner’s book served a serious purpose. Study tours of Rome and Florence to see inscriptions on the spot and in context had become a distinctive part of the teaching undertaken by the newly created department. My own contribution was to offer images of some of the originals that I had made during my own research trips, and which I used in my teaching. Two of these are on display.

Edward Johnston's Writing & illuminating, & lettering; photographs of the Inscription at the base of Trajan’s column, Rome, by James Mosley, 1963
Edward Johnston, Writing & illuminating, & lettering, showing reproductions from Hübner; photographs of the inscription at the base of Trajan’s column, made by James Mosley in 1963.

 

On display

Emil Hübner, Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae, Berlin: George Reimer, 1885
Edward Johnston, Writing & illuminating, & lettering, London: John Hogg, 1906 (2nd edition, 1908)
Inscription at the base of Trajan’s column, Rome, photographs by James Mosley, 1963

 

‘Material histories’ continues until 11 November.

 

‘Time(less) signs’ at Austrian Cultural Forum London

Showcase_1

The exhibition ‘Time(less) signs: Otto Neurath and reflections in Austrian Contemporary Art’ runs from 30 September 2014 to 9 January 2015, at the Austrian Cultural Forum London. It features a selection by curator Maria C. Holter from the ‘Zeit(lose) Zeichen’ exhibition first staged at Vienna’s Künstlerhaus in 2012, supplemented by original material from the Department’s Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection (see image above). As part of the public programme accompanying the exhibition, co-curator Christopher Burke will give a talk on Isotype at the Austrian Cultural Forum on Tuesday 14 October 2014.

See also:

Interview with Maria Holter, exhibition curator

Zeit(lose) Zeichen

Isotype: design and contexts, 1925–1971

A very special ATypI

Jan Tschichold's corrections

As students were settling into their Halls for Welcome Week and the start of the new academic year, Sunday marked the return of several members of the Typography family from the annual ATypI conference, a highlight in the calendar of international type professionals. Held in Barcelona’s impressive new Museu del Diseny by MBM Arquitectes the conference was especially significant for Typography: to celebrate the award of the Sir Mischa Black Medal to Michael Twyman, the Association invited him to deliver the Keynote lecture on the topic of  “Typography as a university study”. (The image above, of visuals marked up by Tschichold for a facsimile edition of Vespasiano’s 1572 writing manual, is from Michael’s collections – and seen by postgraduates who join his seminars.)

Forty years after the foundation of the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication (and a few more since the inception of the original course, in the late 1960s), Michael’s integration of history, theory and practice continues to define typographic education. These ideas have proven not only resilient, but prescient: graphic communication education worldwide is moving towards these ideas, holding Reading as a model for both new courses and institutions realigning their design studies.

Fiona Ross and Michael Twyman

(Above: Fiona Ross and Michael Twyman in Barcelona. Photos by Elena Veguillas)

Reading’s presence at the conference was notable. Eric Kindel and Gerard Unger delivered presentations, as did no less than ten MATD alumni, with two more taking part in panel sessions (Azza Alameddine, Nathalie Dumont, Paul Hunt, William Montrose, Toshi Omagari, Michele Patane, Dan Reynolds, Dan Rhatigan, Alice Savoie, Liron Lavi Turkenich; and Veronika Burian and Nadine Chahine respectively). Fiona Ross co-curated (with the regrettably absent Vaibhav Singh) the exhibition “Making news: type technologies in transition in newspapers across the world”. The selection of items from the Department’s Collections & Archives are a source of fascination and discussion by type designers, and reflect the growth of interest in global scripts.

Making News exhibition
Borna Izadpanah and Behdad Esfahbod reviewing the Urdu section of the exhibition.

ATypI president (and Reading alumnus) José Scaglione’s announcement that ATypI 2015 will take place in São Paulo, the first South American location for the Association, which will bring the conference closer to the substantial community of Brazilian alumni.

Exhibiting Aspen

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Aspen, described in the 1960s as ‘the first three-dimensional magazine’, was produced in California and published in New York on an irregular schedule from 1965 to 1971. Many leading figures in contemporary North American and European art and cultural criticism were involved in its production as editors, designers or contributors and this, along with its unique format, has contributed to its art historical importance and continued relevance to contemporary art and design practices of today. Rather than bound printed pages, Aspen was issued in a customized box or folder containing a wide range of items including posters, postcards, tickets, booklets, reels of Super-8 movie film and ‘flexi disc’ phonographic recordings. These different published formats turned the magazine into a space where artists were able to move outside the gallery and engage with a broader social and political sphere. As the magazine’s editor Phyllis Johnson put it: ‘Aspen presents actual works of art! Exactly as the artist created them. In exactly the medium s/he created them for.’ Few complete sets of Aspen remain and this exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see items from across all ten issues as well as many important individual pieces which have acquired specific art historical and cultural significance.

Hosted by the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication from 18 June – 2 July 2013 (Monday–Friday / 9am– 5pm). This joint exhibition by the Department of Art and the Department of Typography has been curated and designed by MA Book Designer Lisa Stephanides. The exhibition is supported by the Arts Committee at the University of Reading. We would like to extend our thanks to Professor Alun Rowlands from the University of Reading’s Department of Art for his generosity and support in the loan of this collection.

Typewriters: ‘new technology’ for everyday use

 

The wonderful exhibition of typewriters and related ephemera currently on display in Typography’s exhibition area made me look again through my collection of early typing manuals.

Re-reading some of these it is clear that this new technology took quite a bit of getting used to. Pitman’s typewriter manual, first published in 1893, included a ‘specimen of typewriting illustrating, perhaps in an exaggerated form, most of the errors and irregularities to be found in unskilled work’.

The specimen is accompanied by a detailed narrative that draws attention to the defects and how they might be rectified, including irregularity of impression, irregularity of spacing, unevenness at the beginning of paragraphs, unevenness of spacing between lines and slovenliness. There are solutions to working with a limited character set, and examples of changes in language and the use of graphic conventions.

The section ‘Misuse of certain characters’, for example, discusses the use of wrong characters for the figures 1 and 0, and that the former is often written with the capital ‘I’ and the latter with the small-letter ‘o’. It goes on:
‘As the keyboards of machines are but rarely furnished with a complete set of numerical characters, the capital I very naturally suggests itself to the beginner as the best character for the representation of the figure 1, and he sometimes goes on using it for this purpose long after he has become proficient. The lower-case l [el] should be used for this purpose.’

The ‘&’  is mentioned as another character subject to misuse, often substituted for the word ‘and’ whereas it should be reserved for two ‘special cases’: in combination with ‘c’ in ‘&c’ for ‘etcetera’; and in the name of companies as Brown, Smith & Robertson. The solidus ‘/’ is described as ‘properly the sign for shillings, though it may, perhaps, be legitimately used in one or two combinations like o/o for per cent, B/L for Bill of Lading, a/c for account’. An example of its misuse is 4/10/10 for 4 October 1910.

Later typing manuals didn’t need to include examples of poor typing. Instead, as well as technical skills and keyboard practice, they provided instruction on detailed and complex matters of visual organisation. Some of the ‘rules’ for setting things out derived from printers’ and publishers’ house style manuals, but many of the conventions prescribed were determined by the limitations of the machine.